VLC Automatic Updater Buffer Overflow Vulnerability

VLC 3.0.13 fixes a vulnerability that we identified automatically using joern-scan and reported a few weeks back. In particular, the following query that is part of joern-scan’s default bundle pointed to the flaw.

{val src =

cpg.method("(?i)memcpy").callIn.l.filter { memcpyCall =>

You can find the vulnerability by running:

joern-scan --updatedb
joern-scan <path/to/vlc-source-code>l

In particular, the following finding is reported:

Result: 4.0 : Dangerous copy-operation into heap-allocated buffer: /home/user/vlc-3.0.12/src/misc/update_crypto.c:694:parse_public_key

You can find more queries at: https://queries.joern.io . You can share your queries with the community by opening pull requests to https://github.com/joernio/query-database/ .

Today, we are publishing the original vulnerability report as well as a PoC.

Original Report

I would like to report a buffer overflow vulnerability in the latest stable release of the VLC Media Player (version 3.0.12). The buffer overflow is located in the automatic updater. As is the case for CVE-2014-9625 - a similar but different flaw - the vulnerability can potentially be exploited by a man-in-the-middle attacker, e.g., the operator of a rogue access point or HTTP proxy used by the victim.

The vulnerability was identified with the open-source scanner joern-scan (see https://joern.io ) and a proof-of-concept exploit was implemented to confirm the issue.

How automated updates work in VLC

Automatic updates are carried out in two steps. First, a status file is fetched to determine whether an update is available. Only if this is the case, the update is downloaded. Both steps are carried out via unencrypted HTTP, however, the integrity of both the status and the update file are verified by determining whether their contents has been signed with the private key associated with a public key embedded into the VLC code. Unfortunately, prior to any of this verification, a heap-based buffer overflow can be triggered.

Fetching and verification of the status file is implemented as follows:

  1. The status file is fetched via HTTP
  2. A signature for the status file is fetched via HTTP
  3. The signature’s issuer id is compared to that of an embedded key
  4. If the ids do not match, the issuer public key is downloaded via HTTP and parsed.
  5. The downloaded public key is verified by determining whether it is signed with the private key associated with the embedded public key.
  6. The integrity of the status file is validated by checking whether it was signed with the private key associated with the downloaded public key, or the embedded public key if no key needed to be downloaded.

The overflow can be triggered via a specifically crafted public key, that is, it occurs while parsing the public key in step 5 - prior to validation of the key or status file in steps 6 and 7.


As reported by joern, a dangerous copy-operation into a heap-allocated buffer exists in file vlc-3.0.12/src/misc/update_crypto.c on line 694 in function parse_public_key:

54 #define packet_header_len( c ) ( ( c & 0x03 ) + 1 )

static inline int scalar_number( const uint8_t *p, int header_len )
58 {
    assert( header_len == 1 || header_len == 2 || header_len == 4 );

    if( header_len == 1 )
        return( p[0] );
    else if( header_len == 2 )
        return( (p[0] << 8) + p[1] );
    else if( header_len == 4 )
        return( (p[0] << 24) + (p[1] << 16) + (p[2] << 8) + p[3] );
69 }

646     int i_header_len = packet_header_len( *pos++ );
        if( pos + i_header_len > max_pos ||
            ( i_header_len != 1 && i_header_len != 2 && i_header_len != 4 ) )
            goto error;

651     int i_packet_len = scalar_number( pos, i_header_len );
        pos += i_header_len;

        if( pos + i_packet_len > max_pos )
            goto error;

        switch( i_type )
                if( p_key->psz_username ) /* save only the first User ID */
                i_status |= USER_ID_FOUND;
690             p_key->psz_username = (uint8_t*)malloc( i_packet_len + 1);
                if( !p_key->psz_username )
                    goto error;

694             memcpy( p_key->psz_username, pos, i_packet_len );
                p_key->psz_username[i_packet_len] = '\0';

     pos += i_packet_len;

On line 646, pos points to the attacker-controlled public key, and we choose its first byte to be 3, such that packet_header_len returns 4, and this i_header_len is equal to 4. In consequence, the function scalar_number called on line 651 returns the next 4 bytes and stores it in i_packet_len. We choose these four bytes to each be 0xff, and this, i_packet_len is -1. In effect, the buffer p_key->psz_username is allocated to have approximately 0 bytes on line 690, yet SIZE_MAX bytes are copied into the buffer on line 694, causing an overflow.

Steps for reproduction on Linux

While the updater should run by itself every now and then, it can also be triggered by pressing the button “Check for updates” in the UI.

  • To simulate the rogue access point, we simply point all VLC related domains to localhost by editing /etc/hosts, that is, we add the following lines:       update-test.videolan.org       update.videolan.org       download.videolan.org

The update functionality is available by default on Windows, but not on Linux, so make sure to build VLC with –enable-update-check.

tar xfz overflow-trigger-server.tar.gz
cd overflow-trigger-server
sudo python3 ./mserver.py
  • Launch VLC in gdb and click on “Check for updates”. This should produce the following stack trace:
Thread 36 "vlc" received signal SIGSEGV, Segmentation fault.
[Switching to Thread 0x7fff947f8700 (LWP 1920)]
__memmove_avx_unaligned_erms ()
    at ../sysdeps/x86_64/multiarch/memmove-vec-unaligned-erms.S:494
494	../sysdeps/x86_64/multiarch/memmove-vec-unaligned-erms.S: No such file or directory.
(gdb) bt
#0  0x00007ffff7510cfa in __memmove_avx_unaligned_erms () at ../sysdeps/x86_64/multiarch/memmove-vec-unaligned-erms.S:494
#1  0x00007ffff70e7002 in parse_public_key (p_key_data=0x7fff30045170 "-----BEGIN PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK-----\n\nt/////9UAGoBEACuk6ze2V2pZtScf1Ul25N2CX19AeL7sVYwnyrTYuWdG2FmJx4x\nDLTLVUazp2AEm/JhskulL/7VCZPyg7ynf+o20Tu9/6zUD7p0rnQA2k3Dz+7dKHHh\neEsIl5EZyFy1XodhUnEIjel2nGe6f1OO"..., i_key_len=20640, p_key=0x7fff3003c6e0, p_sig_issuer=0x7ffff712c6a8 <videolan_public_key_longid> "q\200q;\345\215", <incomplete sequence \334>) at misc/update_crypto.c:694
#2  0x00007ffff70e82b3 in download_key (p_this=0x55555575abb0, p_longid=0x7fff947f7c06 "q\200q;\345A", <incomplete sequence \334>, p_signature_issuer=0x7ffff712c6a8 <videolan_public_key_longid> "q\200q;\345\215", <incomplete sequence \334>) at misc/update_crypto.c:979
#3  0x00007ffff70e3b5d in GetUpdateFile (p_update=0x7fffc000d270) at misc/update.c:309
#4  0x00007ffff70e412b in update_CheckReal (obj=0x7fffc85165c0) at misc/update.c:426
#5  0x00007ffff797e6db in start_thread (arg=0x7fff947f8700) at pthread_create.c:463
#6  0x00007ffff74a371f in clone () at ../sysdeps/unix/sysv/linux/x86_64/clone.S:95